Why We Can’t Stop Travelling

Wanderer
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Wanderer

The Wanderer retired from his engineering job at a major Silicon Valley semiconductor company at the age of 33. He now travels the world, seeking out knowledge from other wealthy people, so that he can teach people how to become Financially Independent themselves.
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This year marks our third straight year of near-continuous world travel, and some of the most common questions we get when we come by home to see friends and family are “don’t you ever get tired of travelling?” or “don’t you miss having roots?” or my favorite “don’t you miss having stability?”

And when we get those questions, the answer is always no, no, and a thousand times no.

What people back home still fail to understand is that this whole travelling thing isn’t something we’re “getting out of our system.” This is our life now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Stability Isn’t About Location

First of all, when people talk about the merits of “stability,” they often talk about the comfort that certainty brings, the peace-of-mind that comes from waking up in your own bed every morning, and all that jazz. And I get that people need that, I really do.

In fact, I’d argue that stability is even more important for perpetual travelers like us. Throughout our travels, we’ve met a lot of back-packers, and a lot of people doing gap-years. Many of them do the travel thing for a few months, up to a year even, but in the end most of them eventually choose to settle back down after it’s all over.

And for most people it’s for purely financial reasons, but for others, they eventually do miss that stability, that certainty of being in one place brings.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that it’s not a particular place people usually miss, but the people associated with that place.

Humans are innately social creatures, and crave social interaction. But not all social interaction is created equal. The social interaction you get partying with a bunch of people in a bar is not the same as a deep, meaningful friendship that you can spill your heart out to, which is not the same as a romantic relationship you develop with someone.

And unfortunately, while traveling the world has many awesome positives, one of the biggest negatives is the difficulty in developing those deeper, meaningful social ties. In the classic perpetual-traveler documentary A Map For Saturday (so titled because when you travel every day feels like Saturday), the narrator describes the act of travelling as constantly making new best friends and then saying goodbye to them a week later. People get together and party all the time, but travelers are, by definition, always headed somewhere else. Everyone promises to stay in touch after they part ways, but nobody ever does. And that constant discombobulating feeling of making and losing friends is a big reason why people crave stability.

That’s why it’s so important for us to create that stability, and create those deeper, meaningful relationships that last beyond the current city we’re currently in. We Skype with JL Collins pretty much every month. We set up remote board game nights with our good friends Alan and Katie from Pop-Up Business School. And we’re constantly organizing meet-ups or get-togethers with our Chautauqua peeps whenever we’re in the same city as they are.

And above all, FC and I have each other. I wouldn’t enjoy doing this alone, and I can’t imagine how hard it would be trying to date as a single traveler. I mean, dating is hard enough as it is, but add in the fact that you’re changing cities every couple weeks and it becomes almost impossible to create a stable long-term romantic relationship with anyone. The reason why it works for us is that we’re traveling together.

Travel Has to Be Purposeful

And to address those people who think traveling is self-indulgent, I’d respond by saying that yes, travel can be self-indulgent, if you do it wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. Taking a 2-week vacation to sip Mai-Tai’s on the beach can be a very worthwhile endeavor. But can you imagine doing that for 4 weeks? How about 3 months? How about a year?

And while some of you reading this at work might think “Heck yes! Bring it on! That sounds awesome!” The reality is actually quite different.

It’s the same problem people face when they early-retire. What do you do with your day? You might spend 6 months sitting around, eating bon-bons and playing video games, but after that, people get bored.

Humans aren’t meant to just sit around and mindlessly consume. Shoveling cake into your mouth may be fun in the short term, but it’s not satisfying in the end.

Same with long-term travel. If you just travel as a tourist, bouncing from church to church, attraction to attraction, take your pictures and then leave, then you eventually get bored of it. The next city and the next attraction becomes shallow. Hollow. In Europe, there’s actually a phrase that over-exhausted bus-tourists use: ABC. Which means “Another Bloody Church.”

To make travel a lifestyle, and not just an escape, it can’t just be consumptive. It has to be productive.

And for that, we actually have you, the blog readers, to thank for that.

Ever since we started doing the Travel Series posts on this blog, and have gotten all the appreciative comments from our would-be traveling readers, that’s been the reason we’ve been motivated to continue travelling.

We don’t go into cities as pure tourists just to see the sights anymore. We’re more like investigative travel reporters.

Every city we visit, we go in trying to figure out its story. We try to learn what makes the city unique, what makes it worth visiting. And we meticulously document how much it costs to live there.

So what started as a way to conveniently turn our vacation pictures in blog posts has turned into almost a running catalog of world cities to retire to. Each place we visit we try to view through the lens of an early retiree. Should you visit? Should you stay? And how much would it affect your 4% number?

That’s why we keep travelling.

Stability Is Boring. Change Is Inspiring.

But above all else, stability, as in the traditional “stay in one place” definition of stability, is just so boring. I mean, that’s the nature of stability, right? That each day is the same as the last?

And maybe some people like it, but definitely not us.

We spent 9 years as engineers, working the 9 to 5, trapped in our cubicles, and going to boring meetings day in and day out. We’ve tried stability, and it sucks.

Over the last year of work, FC took maybe two pictures on her phone. One of a bacon-latte, and another of a beaver tail we got in Ottawa. Those were the only two memories that were worthy of recording. The rest of the year was just a blur.

But in the first year of retirement, we took so many pictures we ran out of memory on our phone.

The strangest thing about travelling is how life-extending it is. Honestly, the last 3 years of travel has made time feel so stretched out it feel like we’ve been doing it for decades. While the last decade of work feel like it flew by without anything exciting happening.

The human brain is designed to filter out same-ness and detect change. It’s a primal survival instinct that we developed as cavemen that allowed us to notice “hey, these pebbles are in a different place than they were yesterday,” and therefore avert death-by-panther or whatever cavemen worried about back then.

Our brain shuts down when things are too similar. We don’t notice anything, so we don’t retain anything. That’s why a decade of doing the same thing over and over again can seem to fly by. We don’t remember anything because there was no new information to retain.

But change turns us on, it wakes us up, our memories start to fill, and our neurons start to fire again. We thought we were supposed to be retiring from out full time job. But since we’ve retired and started traveling, we’re busier than ever! We’ve got a blog, we’re writing a book, we’ve taken part in a documentary, and we’ve written an app!

All this required inspiration, and connections, and motivation, and somehow the act of travelling the world allowed us to find them.

Rather than being self-indulgent, or selfish, we’ve found world travel has given us a new career, new friends, and a new reason to get up every day and be the best damned people we can be.

So no, we won’t be settling down anytime soon. Even if we eventually get a home base, travel will always be part of our lives.

What do you think? Are you a travel-addict? Do you have a home base?



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49 thoughts on “Why We Can’t Stop Travelling”

  1. I think that’s a beautiful thing when you have a random opportunity to get up and go as you please and travel the world. Travel bloggers like Johnny Ward actually started a blogging side hustle years ago. He was on CNBC as a featured story when he was noted as a young Irish boy growing up in Ireland on welfare and later discovered blogging in his life after having multiple jobs. He tried his hand at travel blogging and lo and behold, three years after he started his travel blog, he became a “side hustle travel blogging millionaire.”

    It’s good to travel because anyone gets the golden opportunity to expand their mind and see the beauty of the world. Most importantly, they get to document their travels in blog post as they go using the awesome power of the smartphone or laptop. This is a way of making all your money back from what you shelled out for travel related car.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re doing something that you love to do and earning a 100% living. Keep up the good work and looking forward to more of your blogs soon. 🙂

    Always thankful,

    Drewry News Network

    1. Thanks! I’ve always looked at travel bloggers with envy thinking “those lucky bastards.” And then somehow we became one of them. Funny how things turn out.

      That being said, it’s a LOT more work than I thought. Definietely more to it than just getting paid to go on vacation.

  2. Your post really points out the differences in people. I’ve lived in the same house with my best friend and wife for 40 years. I had a career of over 30 years that I mostly loved until right before I left and I enjoy a number of consulting side gigs now even though I no longer need the money they bring in. We travel some, we’ll spend a couple of weeks hiking Italy later this year but I would not enjoy your lifestyle. I cannot do my side gigs remotely and also have a lot of volunteer work that I consider to be important parts of giving back to society that I could not do on the road. What you consider to be boring I enjoy, distance running three times a week with the same group I’ve run with for fifteen years and playing tennis with the same guy I’ve played hundreds of times in the past, then having some beer! Catching fish in local lakes that I know well. The important thing is finding your own path, sounds like we both have.

    1. Yes definietely. Some people find comfort in routine, we find it in constant change. Glad to hear you know yourself well enough to know what makes you happy.

  3. That’s great to hear. You guys are a great study case. I’ll keep following and see if you get tired of traveling at some point. I still don’t think it can last. 🙂 But you are doing really well so far. Three years of traveling is a long time. Traveling purposefully is giving your lifestyle some legs.
    Maybe we’re getting old, but coming home is much better than traveling now. It didn’t use to be that way.
    Keep at it and keep us updated.

  4. Another great post. We’re in the middle. We love to travel, but also appreciate getting home. Next month we are off to Europe for most of the month. We’ll probably stay home in October. After that, I’ll get bored and book something. Wife lets me plan ~90% of the travel.

    One point I would add. Having the freedom (through FI) to choose a lifestyle is the most liberating feeling in the world. I was late to the FI climate, but am now an evangelist preaching to those who will listen. 🙂

    1. Completely agree with this! I’m in the middle too — love to travel but my soul also loves a solid home base in a familiar city. I think my ideal setup would be 6 months of travel and 6 months in a settled place (probably working) per year.

      Fantastic post Wanderer. One of my all-time favorites.

      1. Aww thanks!

        And yes, our completely nomadic lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Lots of travellers like having a home base, and I totally get the appeal of that. We may end up converting to something like that later if/when we ever have kids.

  5. We are having this discussion now. We need to get out and spread our wings.

    The idea that you actually get busier and love every minute of it is intriguing.

    We’re still hoping one of these days to catch you guys on the road.

  6. This aspect of travelling that you write about is appealing to some (raises hand) but may not appeal to others (you can spot them running screaming from the room). I think it has to do with the tolerance for change that each person has. I am sure you find that this constant discovery is joyful, particularly the new sights and great food. I wonder if this has anything to do with your choice of your previous careers in engineering where you had to define problems and solve them.

    For my part, and my background is also engineering, the discovery of new things is important for at least one reason and it is the definition of self. I think that what you are doing is a sure-fire way to define yourselves (as individuals and as a couple) and it must be a tremendous source of inspiration. If you know what you are capable of, it really helps you to assess risk and to proceed to make new and different choices.

    Perhaps a silly example but I travelled to London for the first time and I was thrust into the maw of the London Underground. I was bombarded with the flow of crowds, lots of stairs and escalators, and the noise. I had a map and I clung to it and used it to figure out where I was (yes, what a map is for) but it was also a way for me to see order emerge out of the booming, buzzing chaos that all of it appeared to be at first blush. It felt great. Since then, I have successfully navigated Paris, Barcelona, NYC, and Tokyo.

    My guess is that in your previous work, you found that your opportunities to innovate and to be creative, often overlooked by non-techies as being an important part of engineering, was stymied. Work sucks, it really does, and it always has, but to build something, to make things better is what appeals to most engineers I believe. Unfortunately, a lot of things get in the way and usually it is in the form of people who count beans obsessively, those who are schedule mad, or those who want to sell things that can’t be built yet leaned on you to work magic, which is to say compensate for their ineptitude. At least I am not bitter…

    But travel, with the sense of purpose you describe is almost entirely within your purview and your control. It also provides an insight that people really need to see and hopefully benefit from rather than commit to a life of servitude, debt, and frustration.

    1. “At least I am not bitter…” Uh huh. Yes. Clearly.

      But yeah I think you hit the nail on the head. Engineers love puzzles, and travel is just one never-ending puzzle to be solved. We love it 😉

  7. Travel is great. For me, I like occasional doses but couldn’t do it full time. My interests lie elsewhere, and I certainly can’t engage in them from a hotel room.

    I spent plenty of time traveling in my younger years and it doesn’t hold the interest it once did. Maybe it stopped stimulating my neurons after a while.

    But I’m NOT harshing on your lifestyle at all! To each his (or her) own. If you guys love traveling full time — then that’s fantastic!

    Everyone has a lifestyle that’s going to work for them and I don’t believe we should be judgemental of each other.

    1. Yeah, of course. Totally appreciate that.

      Out of curiosity, can you pinpoint at what point travel stopped appealing to you? Did you just get bored of it or was it something else?

  8. Well said! We have taken time off at two occassions in our lives already and I don’t regret anything from it. Also, free time gives you the opportunity of free mind, suddenly everything is an alternative. Good luck! Sounds like you are having the time of your lives!

  9. You two are an inspiration. We’re lucky enough to have jobs that allow us to travel for months at a time, and I’ve never gotten tired of it. Actually the only two things I look forward to going home to are Smartfood Popcorn and my cat. Traveling is so stimulating…how could it ever be boring?

    1. Ha I totally get that smartfood thing. For me, it’s ketchup chips. For some reason no other country in the world has ketchup chips except Canada. *shrug* Ketchup isn’t even a Canadian thing!

  10. Oh my goodness, that cubicle picture is so accurate! I have file drawers, and person flair (see Office Space movie for a funny definition), but those replaceable carpets squares, yup I’m staring at them now!

    Enjoy the travels, look forward to it with family when the timing is right!

    Best wishes, Tigermom

  11. Gaawwwd! Love that song and adopting it as my new anthem. I guess now I consider myself to be a serial expat.

    Funnily enough, when I returned to the States (between Costa Rica and Mexico), THAT felt sort of foreign. Next….dunno. but my roots are no longer in the ground. As always, thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  12. Having many projects post-retirement along with travel seems to be the secret sauce to keeping things fresh and avoiding travel burnout. Do you see yourselves returning to Canada to keep residency? I’m not sure what the restrictions are but is it possible to retain residency without being in the country for the most part of a year? If you were to return to Canada, do you have places in mind besides Toronto? I’m considering a plan where in the future my partner and I spend 1/2 the year abroad during the cold months and half in Canada. But who knows if we’ll just spend entire year(s) abroad. Gentle steps. Btw, how do you refrain from buying souvenirs?!!!

    1. Good questions, PurpleSquirrel. We are looking at doing the same thing. Half time in Toronto (or area) during warmer months, and then going away for the cold weather months. We aren’t big travellers, stayed at home raising our children. We are finally starting to do some travel now, as our teenagers are getting older. I’d like to know those answers too!

      1. If you’re talking about tax residency, as long as you don’t spend more than 183 days in another country, you retain tax residency in Canada. Because we move around so much, that rule never triggers and thus we are still tax residents and still file Canadian tax returns.

        If you’re talking about residency for health insurance, you may lose that depending on your province’s specific rules. We did lose our health insurance, but we are covered through an expat insurance plan we bought, which we wrote about here:

        https://www.millennial-revolution.com/invest/workshop-invest/investment-workshop-49-expat-insurance/

        Other than that, if you’re a Canadian citizen you can always re-establish residency whenever you want by simply returning back to Canada and staying 90 days.

  13. I think part of the key to success with continual travel might be the slow travel aspect. If you stay at least 1 month in one place, it isn’t stressful versus the hussle and bustle of a 1 or 2 week vacation where you try to pack in as much crap as you can. That is tiring and you need a vacation from the vacation. Travelling slowly allows you to get to know the area you’re visiting, the people, and the places regular tourists don’t normally go. I could see myself doing that continuously once I pull the trigger at work.

    You do bring up another good point though. Doing this as a couple versus single is a plus. I’ve looked for a woman who is FI or at least has the FI mindset and is on their way to FI but it is very difficult. It appears to be a rare trait. I just have spendies around me. Good for the two of you to have found each other and enjoying life as you like it.

  14. Change is a funny thing. I wilt and go on auto pilot when things stay the same too long.

    I can’t travel year round. So I’ve compensated in a few diff ways. For a decade, I moved almost every year. Then I married someone that owned property. So I switched to consulting where I worked out of several locations. I’ve been doing that for three years and it’s gotten stale. So I’m debating next adventure to deal with my crave for change.

  15. Change can come around a lot of different ways.

    I’ve lived and worked abroad for five months (France and Switzerland). For seven years I’ve rented a small one-bedroom apartment in the city while a flight attendant and service director, which of course comes with travel. I’ve had lobster in Halifax and enjoyed wheat beer along the Rhine, and that’s just in the last week of work. Vacations taking off without a plan – both single and now with my girlfriend – to places like Australia, Peru, Bolivia, Thailand, Miami, San Francisco, Ireland, Barbados, etc. Road trips on a high-powered motorcycle (I know for a fact that my backpack can survive a 260 km/h wind). I’ve stayed in hostels, expensive hotels, locals’ houses without a proper roof, and once on the 52nd story of the Hancock Building in Chicago with a killer view of the lake and sky line.

    All of these things have been good, even though some of them got tedious. But at 34, the thing I’m finding the most exciting and challenging right now is getting settled into the 28 year-old, 2,000 sq ft house sitting on a 25,000 sq ft lot we just moved into a little over a week ago. We’re learning how to maintain a pool, how to fix things that break, waking up to the bleating of a goat or sheep, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the home maintenance and improvement skills that I plan to acquire. As a bonus, I’m not looking at my portfolio’s value nearly as much as when we lived in a small apartment and banked 45% of my take home salary; there are other things to focus on now. I’ll go to bed tonight tired, with sore muscles, and with tangible results to what I worked on today – weeds cleared and a pool with clear water.

    I realize that my current challenge is some people’s idea of a prison, but for me at this point in my life, it’s exactly what I want to be doing. Will that be the case forever? Luckily, we can still change course if we decide this is no longer the right path for us.

    As an aside, I have a twin sister who’s been living the nomadic life for about 16 years now. She’s seen and done far more than I have, but it’s not without its down sides. She has health issues, stress, and trouble relating to the majority of people who put down roots. My sister is awesome in many ways, but I’m not sure that this life will fulfill her as we get into the second half of our 30s. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

    1. Well, as Jim Collins once told me, if your life is getting too easy, just buy a house! Problem solved 🙂

      But yeah I totally get what you’re saying. I was talking to Mr. Money Mustache at Chautauqua Ecuador and he’s like you. Travelling more than twice a year tires him out. He’s happiest swinging hammer or welding some pipes on his Mustache HQ building.

    1. We’ve already turned down the ads to the lowest level per reader feedback. And 5 in-line ads for a 1500 word article is not what I would describe as “crazy”. Now that our site has grown, so have the costs. The ads are there to offset the cost of running this blog. If you prefer to get zero ads, feel free to get the information by buying our book instead when it comes out next year.

  16. We would have called ourselves travel addicts, in the past we have gone travelling anywhere from one week to one year. But we always had a home. Yet we always had our next adventure planned. Now more n more we prefer our home. Our sheets our bed our pots n pans, our front porch our backyard. And to satisfy the the adventurer in us we are thinking of trying to Visit closer places for 4-5 days. 6-7 times a year. Everyone is different, I don’t regret all the places our travels have taken us, and neither will you. And you don’t owe anyone to keep travelling or to settle down.

  17. I love it! Can’t wait to til we get to be full time travelers in a few years.

    I honestly hate when I get those questions from the stability-seeker peeps. I always end up feeling like I have to justify myself to them for my future plans, as if I need to make them understand why I want to travel for a living.

    They will never understand.

    1. Nope, they won’t. What makes those people hilarious is that they’re so quick to judge something that they’re too scared to even try themselves. Whatever.

  18. I really enjoyed this article. I think it’s great that you enjoy travelling so much thus far. But I mostly agree with Retire by 40 Joe. I’m also curious to see how many years you’ll keep at it.

    I was a perpetual traveller for 4 years after I early retired, and I still travel quite a bit 11 years later, but more to meet up with someone or take family somewhere than to sightsee. Just this past year, I’ve travelled to Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Mexico, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and Iceland… and only did sightseeing in Switzerland and Iceland. Like Joe, I love coming home.

    For me, I lasted as a perpetual traveller for only 4 years because I already travelled a lot when I was working, including multiple overseas assignments in Europe and Asia. I had been to almost 40 countries even before retiring. I might have last another year or two if I hadn’t previously travelled so much.

    By the end of my 4th year, I just wanted to return to SF. I think it had mostly to do with age (late 30s) and enjoying the comforts of home. I had left my house sitting mostly unattended for over 4 years (didn’t bother renting it out although it would have generated 250k in that time), although I had a gardener so no one could really tell.

  19. I see everyone is following the lead of Drewry News Network leaving lengthy and meaningful comments. Thank you for showing the proof in the pudding that DNN is the leader when it comes to showing who has the true business muscle for the hustle! 🙂

  20. Brilliant article ! I love your outlook on the whole permanent travel thing !

    I have questions about what becomes of your citizenship status when you start such an adventure: are you still canadian citizens ? Do you still send a tax report to the CRA ? Can you still have all the benefits of a canadian (TFSA, RRSP, free medical insurance ?) or are you considered expats ? How does that work ?

    Thank you and keep those articles comin’ ! 😀

    1. Your citizenship doesn’t change when you become nomadic. We are still Canadian residents for the purpose of taxes (meaning we still pay taxes to Canada). If we decided to declare ourselves non-residents, we would have to sell all assets, but we wouldn’t have to pay any taxes going forward. No plans to do that. As for healthcare, we use expat insurance.

  21. I enjoy reading your blog . I think it is great that you are travelling full time. We took a different route. My wife and I and our 2 kids have traveled all over the world, but a little at a time. We took about a month off every year to go someplace new. I am also a software engineer working part time now. I know what you mean though about office jobs. Some of them are extremely boring. I try to find jobs more interesting like scientific applications. The way a see it is you create your own destiny. Some people just follow the crowd and don’t think outside the box.

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